Gov. Jim Justice spent the first seven minutes of his Wednesday COVID-19 news briefing listing the age, gender and home county of 60 West Virginians who died in recent days of complications from COVID-19.
In the past week, as the Pfizer vaccine arrived in West Virginia, the state set record highs for the number of deaths in one day, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and the number of those patients in intensive care units.
“I surely to goodness hate like crazy that I have to sit here and read West Virginia’s 1,000th death,” the governor said. “How much wisdom have we lost? How much experience have we lost? What would happen if we just deplete our elderly? It’s just like we’re lining them up and they’re dying and dying and dying.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the state recorded 66,849 total cases of COVID-19, with 21,260 of those currently active, and 1,039 COVID-19 related deaths.
A majority of the state’s deaths have occurred in people over the age of 65, many of whom, Justice said, often ignore initial symptoms of the virus and seek care only after it’s too late. The governor urged anyone who feels a bit sick — especially older people — to seek out COVID-19 testing immediately, and also, if able, to donate blood and plasma to help with treatments.
“If you’ve tested positive,” Justice said, “the antibodies will save your life.”
While vaccine distribution is already well underway for health care workers and those at long-term care facilities in the state, the governor on Wednesday shared further details for eventual distribution to the general public. Vaccination distribution is currently in Phase 1 — specifically Phase 1-A, which prioritizes immunization for health care workers who work directly with COVID-19 patients and nursing home residents and staff.
Gradually, Phase 1 will extend to include first responders, public health officials, dentists, remaining health care staffers, educators, utility and transportation workers, food handlers and those necessary for the continuance of government.
“This phase is really meant, as I said, to be informed by the agencies that oversee these industry sectors and help us understand who these vital people are,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar. “But these different phases are not sequential, they’re not inflexible — it’s not like we do 1-A, then 1-B, then 1-C.
“There is flexibility for this, but these are the priorities for Phase 1.”
Come March, Justice said, West Virginia should be ready to fully transition to Phase 2, which is vaccinations for the general population. Initial vaccinations in this stage will be prioritized by age (the older first) and those with pre-existing conditions that could make them more susceptible to COVID-19.
Marsh said those with pre-existing conditions will need a physician’s note to qualify for a vaccination at this stage.
“Instead of us trying to determine which pre-existing health condition is more important than another, what we’re going to do is ask their health care provider to write an order to get them into this higher level category,” Marsh said. “So we’re very inclusive, but we’re also selective, because we want to make sure we’re using each dose of the vaccine wisely.”
Phase 2-B will cover other health care and critical workers — with priority for those over 50 years old — who were not included in phases 1-C and 1-D. Phase 2-C then will be the entirety of the general population, Marsh said.
Dr. Ayne Amjad, the state’s health officer, reminded those receiving the vaccines — currently the Pfizer vaccine and, eventually, the Moderna vaccine — that they need to receive two doses, weeks apart, to ensure they work. The two doses must be from the same vaccine, and the state is tracking who is inoculated with what to ensure this occurs, Amjad said.
- In his briefing reserved for COVID-19, where he has in the past criticized and opted not to answer unrelated questions, Justice recounted a fishing story as he announced that the state Department of Natural Resources will stock 30,000 additional trout at 15 streams across the state.
- Thirty health leaders across West Virginia signed a letter in support of the vaccine, re-enforcing its safety and those who might be wary of getting vaccinated.
- The governor said more than $233 million in federal CARES Act grant funding has been distributed to cities and counties across West Virginia, although the state still has more than $700 million of the money to spend before the Dec. 30 deadline.
- Justice said CVS and Walgreens pharmacies had announced that they would start vaccinations in nursing homes next week, an effort already underway within the state.
- West Virginia National Guard Adj. Gen. James Hoyer said snowstorms on Tuesday and Wednesday delayed some shipments of vaccine from distribution hubs to providers around the state, but that, so far, there have been no serious issues.